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Rich Rodriguez keeps talking about making his Wildcats relevant. This weekend they have a chance to become grossly relevant as they head to Eugene to battle the third ranked Oregon Ducks.
He keeps talking about being relevant and I find that fascinating.
Particularly for a man who has spent so much time being all too relevant,emphasis on the relevancy of his team seems wildly unconventional. We often find leadership preaching a head down, get to work approach. "Ignore the pundits; disregard public opinion; don't believe the hype; all that matters are the [insert number of teammates here] guys in this room!" An approach that minimizes the big picture and maintains focus on the task at hand so as to not overwhelm anyone with next steps.
It's tried and true. Not unlike the West Coast or Smash Mouth offenses. Oh wait...RichRod ignored those too and invented the spread so to say there's anything conventional about the man who demanded the "macdaddy of popsicles" for his team would be inaccurate.
But what of this relevancy? Why would the man who grew to infamy on that ESPN Ticker incite his team to get on there?
In a day and age when teams and coaches can grow their fame in an instant - watching themselves scroll across the Ticker for reasons ranging from wins or sanctions to tattoos or press conference rants (SMILE!) - becoming relevant remains a peculiar theme to a program. Prior to beating then 16th ranked Oklahoma State (relevant?), Rodriguez said, "The best way to make yourself relevant is by beating a ranked team." Then, in a speech preceding the Wildcats' shutting out of South Carolina State, he rallied the troops, "You worked your ass off to become relevant...people are now talking about Arizona...you are on the ticker."
Indeed they are as they head to Eugene for what is no doubt a ticker worthy bout with an opportunity to beat the third ranked Ducks. Knock off a top-five team and just ask the Stanford Cardinal what it can do for your relevancy. They're now in the National Title conversation.
So I think I'm starting to get it. Rodriguez is laying out the pieces, a step-wise formula to perhaps the Rose Bowl and beyond. "Why not Arizona?" he asked in his introductory press conference. Why can't Arizona be relevant and off the Ducks in Autzen?
Well because there's a lot of residual Oregonian hatred towards Arizona, that's why. The Ducks have already built their relevance. Chip Kelly's got a group currently donning the cover of Sports Illustrated and in the midst of their third consecutive serious title hunt and they're no doubt hungry. But back to hating each other.
There was the Thursday night Dennis Dixon incident; the faux storming and water bottle night; the Bellotti-hates-Stoops-and-vice-versa era; the ownership of the spread debate; the simple fact that these are conference foes. This game will not be short of reasons to watch and certainly will not be devoid of offense (Arizona is 4th in total offense at 605ypg, Oregon 7th at 596ypg).
One sure fire way to find yourself irrelevant is to get rolled; a fate Vegas seems to have prescribed for Arizona as three-plus touchdown underdogs. And this marks game one of a three game stretch in which the Wildcats play at #3 Oregon, host #26 Oregon State, and travel to #9 Stanford. A similar gauntlet that catapulted Arizona onto The Ticker for their coaching search that found them RichRod. Of course converse logic would suggest that this gauntlet could very well spring the Wildcats into brand new territory, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
I don't believe Rodriguez's quest for relevancy is a spotlight hunt. He doesn't want all eyes on his program for the sake of headlines and PTI. The man is familiar with that show for all the wrong reasons and likely wants no part of it. He's asking his kids to create the headlines, to get the talking heads talking because his group indeed focused on the task at hand and took care of business.
Will Arizona win this game? I don't know.
But I'm not the only one asking the question and that's relevant.
(Follow Adam on twitter @pachoopsab)